Upon launching his new company Skewed Productions, Marcus Engman — Ikea’s former Head of Design — said, “I want to show there’s an alternative to marketing, which is actually design. And if you work with design and communications in the right way, that would be the best kind of marketing, without buying media.”
Lately, the market has been inundated with companies that seem to build products for themselves, and not for the people who actually use them. We’ve all seen it before: beautiful restaurants that serve mediocre food; charmingly branded apps that feature frustrating user experiences. The story’s all the same: too often, folks are more interested in talking up their product’s greatness instead of investing their time into making it great. And when a product’s story is driven by flashy pitch decks and loud marketing, one thing becomes clear: it was built with ego, not elbow grease. This approach to building products not only harms the brand’s integrity, but also exacerbates already underwhelming performance. It’s an obvious short-game approach.
Sure, building a product that provides actual value can be challenging. But companies of lasting value aren’t built on foundations of flashy marketing and gimmicky taglines. They’re built on making customers happy by delivering quality products that serve users. Thoughtful product design lays a cornerstone for truthful and potent marketing that champions a great product. And if entrepreneurs put in the work where it counts, it pays big for all parties.
Not sure where to start? Here are three ways to catalyze the value of product design for your brand.
Listen, then build.
The best business strategy isn’t about creating a product that serves your business; it’s a more sustainable notion: building a product focused on serving your customers. To do this, brands must first focus on solving a problem or adding value.
When Georgina Gooley launched Billie Razors, she didn’t just envision a future where women were free of the “pink tax,” the extra amount women pay for products and services. She saw it in present-tense. But to bring this vision to life, the Billie team knew they’d need to get their razors right the first time. Near-exhaustive research from early stages of product development showed that women were irritated at the state of shaving. Failed suction-cup shower holders and popular razor designs that caused razor burn were common points of frustration for women, regardless of how or when they shaved. So rather than designing beautiful razors that didn’t solve functional problems that customers faced, Billie set out to create a razor that did its job, delighted its users, and wouldn’t fall off the wall.
The moral of this story is simple, and it’s one that extends far beyond disruption in the shower. Billie’s product design team knew that it would never be able to glean important insights that would create a better experience for its users without thoroughly evaluating the current experience itself.
Help your users trust you.
All customer relationships with brands, regardless of industry or segment, are built on trust. And when trust is strong, brand loyalty is better than ever. But if users have reason to doubt a brand, or haven’t experienced an engagement that makes the product or service worth it, they’ll soon be on the lookout for other options.
Take PayPal’s buyer protection, for example. PayPal has been a heavy hitter in the online payments space for a very long time, but one of the most compelling features of the payment platform that keeps users happy is PayPal Buyer Protection. Essentially, Buyer Protection ensures that no matter what you buy, when disaster strikes, users are eligible for a full refund with almost no questions asked. Whether an order arrives not as described or not at all, PayPal makes a point to ensure users feel secure in using their platform by offering peace of mind. But security is only one dimension of PayPal’s approach to customer relationships. Above all else, PayPal knows that users are loyal to brands that are equally loyal to them.
Good product design is about demonstrating the value of your customer to your brand. If users feel disempowered or inconsequential in the grand scheme of your product suite, it’s unlikely they’ll stick around. So whether your brand chooses to highlight value by implementing guarantees or by introducing personalization to your customer interactions, showing users that they’ve been considered in the scope of your product goes a long way.
Applause fades, but value persists.
Often, misalignment in business objectives becomes readily apparent when initiatives backfire. Regardless of fault, the entire brand suffers if independent disciplines don’t work together. Take product design and marketing. Although the two are very unique in both workflow and execution, lack of integrity in a product’s design creates an impossible task for marketing: saving or resurrecting a product doomed to fail from the start.
In 2014, Google X released Google Glass, a new and innovative piece of wearable technology dreamt up by a team of Google advisors, experts, and executives. A handful of Google employees were assigned to the task force of this clandestine mission, and product development began. Pre-launch, the sleek, space-age glasses became the talk of the town, receiving shout-outs from major celebrities and a 12-page Vogue spread. But when the honeymoon phase ended and real users finally got their hands on the wearable, it was deemed one of the worst products of all time.
What happened? Disconnects between Google’s product development and marketing teams during the production and rollout of Google Glass led to blind spots in the user experience that bled into the overall campaign strategy. The takeaway is one we can apply to our own product development efforts: A bad product can’t be resuscitated or glossed over by even the most aggressive of marketing campaigns.
So I’m with Engman on this one. If your brand puts in the hard work of delivering value, your product becomes your marketing. It’s the anchor to your brand story, and the difference between a completed conversion and a drop-off. The real home run? Products that consistently deliver on their promises, and businesses that operate with integrity. You can’t buy better marketing than that.